Cheapest Animal To Raise For Meat: Top 8 Picks For Budget-Friendly Farming

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This article is part of our Raising Meat on the Homestead series.

Raising farmyard animals for meat can be a cost-effective and sustainable way to provide yummy and nourishing protein for your family. In this guide, we’ll explore some of the cheapest farm animals to raise for meat. Either of these lovely animals can save money and help you maintain a healthy homestead lifestyle.

A turkey, rooster, and chickens foraging for lunch in the field.

We’ll also share some of our best tips for reducing your cost when raising our favorite meat animals.

Sound fun?

Then let’s continue!

What Is The Cheapest Animal To Raise For Meat?

It depends! Aspects like location, available resources, local regulations, and your homestead’s management practices shape the cost-effectiveness of raising meat animals.

Yet, despite these variables, the following animals consistently stand out as the more affordable options. Let’s check them out.

  1. Broiler Chickens
  2. Rabbits
  3. Pigs
  4. Goats
  5. Sheep
  6. Turkeys
  7. Quail
  8. Fish

Prices for the cheapest animal to raise for meat can also fluctuate based on local demand, feed prices, and other economic factors. Also – consider fencing, housing, water systems, or indirect costs like veterinary care, utilities, and labor.

Research the current prices in your area and build a detailed budget before you dive in further!

8 Cheapest Meat Animals – Our Official List

WHAT IS THE BEST ANIMAL TO RAISE FOR MEAT? | COWS, SHEEP, PIGS CHICKENS HOW MUCH MEAT beef lamb pork

Variables aside – we’ve had the best luck raising the following low-cost farm animals. Any of these creatures provide delicious meat and don’t require as many resources as dairy or meat cows.

1. Broiler Chickens

White broiler chickens on a poultry farm exploring the garden.

Broiler chickens are chickens for meat production. They grow quickly and often reach slaughter weight in about 6 to 8 weeks. They are cost-effective due to their short growth period and efficient feed conversion.

Chickens are relatively easy to care for, don’t require a lot of space, and can provide you with an ongoing supply of fresh, delicious eggs. Plus, they produce yummy meat once they stop laying eggs.

  • Chick cost: $1 to $3 each.
  • Feed cost: $7 to $20 to raise one broiler to slaughter weight, depending on feed prices and type.
  • Processing: Home processing is almost free (excluding equipment costs), while professional processing might be $3 to $6 per bird.
  • Expected yield: Expect four to five pounds per bird.

How To Reduce Costs Raising Broiler Chickens

Yes you can make money on chickens, this is what I did.

Raising broiler chickens can be rewarding and cost-effective if you approach them with savvy strategies. Here are some tips to help keep costs down when raising broiler birds.

Buy Bulk Feed

If you plan on raising multiple batches of broilers, consider buying feed in bulk. Buying bulk feed often results in a lower price per pound.

Grow Chicken Feed

You can also grow chicken feed. Consider growing grains like corn or legumes that can work as chicken feed. You can grow veggies and greens like lettuce, cabbage, or kale to supplement the chicken’s diet.

You can also try chicken feed fermentation. Fermented feed can improve digestion and nutrient absorption in chickens, meaning they might require less feed overall. Plus, it can improve their overall health.

Pasture Raising

Free-ranging your chickens on pasture can reduce feed costs because they’ll supplement their diet with insects, worms, and greens they forage.

Proper Housing

Protecting broilers from predators and harsh weather conditions can reduce losses. A well-ventilated coop will also help prevent respiratory issues.

Brooder Management

Make sure the brooder temperature is optimal for the chicks. Too cold or hot environments can stress the birds, leading to slower growth and potential health issues.

DIY Equipment

Instead of buying expensive feeders or waterers, consider DIY solutions using PVC pipes or upcycled materials.

Local Buying

Purchase chicks from local hatcheries or breeders. Buying locally can save on shipping costs and ensure you get healthier birds.

Manage Waste

Collect chicken manure and use it as fertilizer for your garden. Chicken fertilizer recycles nutrients and can save you money on commercial fertilizers.

Related – 11 Best Meat Chicken Breeds For Your Backyard Coop

2. Rabbits

Three adorable rabbits sitting on a bench munching on grass.

Rabbits reproduce quickly and require minimal space. Their feed costs are typically far lower than that of heftier livestock. They are often ready for slaughter around 8 to 12 weeks of age. They have an excellent feed-to-meat conversion ratio and can thrive in backyard setups. As a bonus, aged bunny manure is a fantastic natural fertilizer for your garden.

  • Initial purchase: Expect to pay $10 to $50 per rabbit for meat breeds.
  • Feed cost: Approximately $0.25 to $0.50 per day per rabbit.
  • Processing: Home processing has minimal costs. Professional processing can be trickier to find and varies widely in price.
  • Expected yield: Expect from 2.5 to 3.5 pounds of meat per rabbit.

How To Reduce Costs Raising Rabbits For Meat

Brown farmyard rabbit exploring the yard on a lovely day.

Raising rabbits for meat is already a cost-effective endeavor for many homesteaders. But with some careful strategies, you can make it even more economical. Here are some tips to help minimize expenses while ensuring you raise healthy meat rabbits.

Optimized Breeding

Opt for rabbit breeds known for their meat quality and fast growth, like the New Zealand White or Californian. Choosing an optimized breed ensures a better meat-to-bone ratio and quicker time to slaughter.

Grow Your Feed

Consider growing alfalfa, clover, or other greens that rabbits love. Homegrown alfalfa can help cut down on the feed bill significantly. Bunnies also love clover – don’t discount it.

Pasture Raising

Much like chickens, rabbits flourish on pasture in movable pens. They’ll eat the grass and some weeds, reducing the need for purchased feed.

Collect And Use Manure

Aged rabbit manure is a perfect fertilizer for vegetable gardens. Use it in your raised garden beds, fruit tree transplants, and vegetable rows. Also, consider selling it to local gardeners.

DIY Hutches And Cages

Instead of buying pre-made rabbit hutches, consider building your own using available or recycled materials.

Water Conservation

Deploying multiple nipple waterers or automatic watering systems can ensure your bunnies always have ample water access while reducing waste.

Efficient Breeding Practices

Keep accurate records and plan your breeding to avoid overpopulation and unnecessary feed costs. Bunnies multiply frighteningly fast. If you let their population grow out of control, you can get overwhelmed!

3. Pigs

Healthy farm pigs foraging and grazing in the grassy pasture.

Pigs can also be an economical choice if you have ample space. Although they require a larger area for grazing and their dietary needs can be more complex, they mature quickly and have a high meat yield, even more so if you’re raising delicious pig breeds optimized for meat production like the Yorkshire or Duroc.

Their feed conversion rate is also quite efficient, so they make the most of their food.

  • Piglet cost: $50 to $150.
  • Feed cost: $150 to $400 to raise a pig to slaughter weight (around 250 pounds), depending on feed prices.
  • Processing: Expect to pay $150 to $300 per pig, varying by location and processor.
  • Expected yield: Expect 130 to 180 pounds of meat from a 250-pound pig.

How To Reduce Costs Raising Pigs

Free Pig Feed - Save BIG Money On Feeding Pastured Pigs

Raising pigs for meat can be quite an investment, but with some innovation, you can cut expenses while ensuring your pigs are healthy and well-fed. Here are some inventive ways to save.

Alternative Feed Sources

Besides commercial pig feed, consider sourcing food scraps from local restaurants, bakeries, or grocery stores. Many places discard food that’s perfectly nutritious for pigs. Offer to trade a few pounds of fresh, home-cooked bacon in exchange! 🙂

Pasture Raising

Rotate your pigs on different pasture plots. They’ll naturally root and consume grass, legumes, alfalfa, cover, insects, and worms, reducing their need for commercial feed.

DIY Feed Mixes

If you have grain access, consider homemade pig feed mix. You can also use a swine feed recipe that caters to the nutritional needs of your pigs.

Water Collection Systems

Implement rainwater harvesting systems to provide water for your pigs, reducing the reliance on other potentially costly sources.

Efficient Fencing

Use electric fencing, which is effective for pigs. Electric fencing is also relatively cheap and easy to move, ideal for rotational grazing.

Self-Breeding

Consider keeping a breeding pair instead of purchasing piglets every season. Self-breeding provides a consistent supply of piglets without the added cost of buying new ones. Here’s an easy-to-make DIY shelter to house your pig litter.

Direct Sales

Bypass brokers by selling your pork products directly to consumers. Go after direct sales through farmers’ markets or online platforms. (Everyone loves fresh backyard bacon!)

Waste Recycling

Pig manure is a rich fertilizer. Use it to enrich your farm soil or sell it to local gardeners.

Cooperative Ventures

Partner with local grain or produce farmers. Your pigs can eat grain or veggie remnants. And in return, the farmers get natural fertilizers from pig waste.

Related – Raising Rabbits For Meat: A Practical Guide For Beginners

4. Goats

White goat foraging in the field on a beautiful summer day.

Boer goats are our favorite. Goats can thrive on less-than-ideal pasture and browse various forage crops, making them suitable for land that might not support other livestock. They’re also relatively low-maintenance and provide you with meat, milk, cheese, and even fiber from their hair. Plus, they can help keep your property tidy by eating overgrown vegetation.

  • Kid cost: $50 to $300 for meat breeds.
  • Feed and care: $150 to $300 per year per goat, depending on grazing availability.
  • Processing: $50 to $150, depending on weight and processor.
  • Expected yield: Expect 25 to 40 pounds of meat from a typical market-weight kid.

How To Reduce Costs Raising Meat Goats

Lovely goat making funny faces while playing in a field.

Raising goats for meat is becoming increasingly popular, given their manageable size and delicious yield. However, we also have a few goat-raising tips to help keep your costs in check.

Optimized Pasture

Rotate your goats on different pasture sections to ensure they always have fresh forage. Doing so reduces the need for supplemental feed, as goats can get a significant portion of their diet from browsing.

Local Hay Sources

Source hay from local farmers, which can be cheaper than store-bought options and support the local economy.

Breeding Program

If you plan on scaling, consider a small-scale breeding program instead of buying new goats each season. Properly managed, this can yield a steady supply of meat goats. Check our guide about how to tell if a goat is pregnant for more information.

Natural Goat Supplements

Supplements like apple cider vinegar or garlic have excellent reputations for helping boost your goat’s immune system. Learning to trim your goat’s hooves is also a nifty way to help keep your herd happy and healthy.

Utilize Goat Byproducts

Besides meat, goats offer other byproducts like hide and milk (if you also raise dairy goats). These can be sold or processed into value-added products.

Homemade Shelters

Instead of expensive barns, consider using homemade goat shelters from recycled materials or creating simple three-sided shelters to protect goats from extreme weather.

5. Sheep

Beautiful Merino sheep exploring a lush farmyard pasture.

Like goats, sheep can be raised on pasture, reducing the need for purchased feeds. They provide meat (lamb or mutton) and wool, which can offset costs. Sheep are also famous lawnmowers and help maintain unwanted weeds. Check out our favorite meat sheep breeds for more tips on our favorite varieties.

  • Lamb cost: $50 to $200.
  • Feed and care: $100 to $300 yearly, depending on grazing availability.
  • Processing: $50 to $150, depending on weight and processor.
  • Expected yield: Expect 35 to 50 pounds of meat from a market-weight lamb.

How To Reduce Costs Raising Sheep For Meat

Lovley farmyard sheep and farmer in a countryside meadow.

Raising sheep for meat can be both rewarding and profitable. However, costs can quickly add up if not managed well. Here are some tips to minimize your expenses when raising meat sheep.

Wool Revenue

While your primary focus is meat, don’t overlook the wool. Even if you’re raising meat breeds, you can shear the wool and sell it to add another revenue stream. Or, raise sheep that don’t need shearing to keep maintenance to a minimum. See our 15 best sheep breeds for wool guide if you’re considering raising sheep and producing wool.

Grazing Management

Implement a rotational grazing system. It can help ensure pastures don’t get overgrazed, reducing the need for supplemental sheep feed. Rotational grazing also helps your forage crops to develop deeper roots, thereby helping soil structure.

Guard Animals

Use protective animals like llamas, donkeys, or livestock guardian dogs. While there’s an initial cost, a Great Pyrenees can reduce losses from predators more effectively than random human supervision.

Hoof Care

Regular hoof trimming prevents lameness and other complications like rot. Learning to do it yourself, instead of hiring help, can save money.

Homemade Supplements

Make homemade mineral blocks or supplements using natural ingredients, ensuring the flock gets the necessary nutrients without the premium price tag.

Utilize Scraps

If you have vegetable or fruit scraps or leftover crop harvests, these can supplement your sheep’s diet.

Shearing Skills

Instead of hiring, learn basic shearing skills, especially if your sheep have good-quality wool. Shearing skills save on shearing costs and can generate income if you sell the wool.

Direct Marketing

Consider selling lambs directly to customers as freezer lambs. Direct marketing can yield a better price per pound and build customer loyalty.

Related – Meat Rabbit Breeds | 10 Best Rabbits To Raise For Meat & Profit

6. Turkeys

Large black turkey exploring the countryside with poultry friends.

While they take longer to raise than broiler chickens (typically around 16 to 24 weeks for broad-breasted varieties), they provide a substantial amount of meat and can be cost-effective if raised in larger batches.

  • Poult cost: $5 to $15.
  • Feed cost: $30 to $60 to raise a turkey to slaughter weight.
  • Processing: Expect to pay $10 to $30 per turkey, depending on the weight and processor.
  • Expected yield: Expect 15 to 20 pounds of meat per turkey.

How To Reduce Costs Raising Meat Turkeys

Massive turkeys lounging and foraging in the backyard pasture.

If you’re looking to maximize profits and minimize expenses, here are some tips for turkey farming.

Brood Management

Proper brooding during the initial weeks is crucial. Keeping poults warm and comfortable reduces early mortality rates and encourages healthy growth.

Natural Foraging

Turkeys are excellent foragers. Allowing them access to pastures or wooded areas can supplement their diets, reducing feed costs.

Custom Feed Mix

Consider making homemade turkey feed mix. You can beat commercial feed prices by directly sourcing grains and supplements.

Disease Prevention

Turkeys can be susceptible to certain diseases like Blackhead disease. Ensure you rotate pastures and maintain clean living conditions to reduce disease outbreaks.

Deep Litter Method

Implement the deep litter method in the turkey house. Deep littering reduces the frequency of litter changes and can lead to compostable material at the end of the season.

Feeder Design

Turkeys are messy eaters. Invest in feeders that minimize waste to get the most out of your feed.

Seasonal Raising

Raising turkeys seasonally, primarily for Thanksgiving, can ensure you have a ready market and reduce overhead.

7. Quail

Cute Chinese quail and a delicious basket stuffed with eggs.

These birds are small but mature quickly. You can raise them in confined spaces, and their feed-to-meat ratio is superb.

  • Chick cost: $1 to $5.
  • Feed cost: Approximately $0.03 to $0.07 per day per bird.
  • Processing: Typically done at home due to the small size.
  • Expected yield: Expect 0.3 to 0.5 pounds of meat per bird.

How To Reduce Costs Raising Quail For Meat

A lovely quail standing on a log and looking behind its shoulder.

Raising quail for meat is an attractive option given their small size, quick turnaround, and delicious taste. Here are some tailored tips for raising quail economically.

Space-Efficient Coops

Quails require less space than other poultry. Use vertically stacked quail coops to maximize vertical space, especially in confined areas.

Game Bird Feed

Quail, being game birds, have specific nutritional needs. Instead of generic bird feed, opt for game bird feed formulated for optimal growth and health.

Natural Foraging

If feasible, allow your quail to forage. Quails eat seeds, bugs, and small worms, which can supplement their diet and reduce feed costs. See our homesteader’s guide to quail farming for more detailed tips.

Brooder Efficiency

Quail chicks are teeny-tiny and require warmth. Use efficient brooder lamps, and ensure the brooding area is insulated to minimize heat loss.

Egg Incubation

If you’re breeding your quail, efficient incubators tailored for quail eggs can increase hatch rates. Optimized incubators can give you more birds for comparable ballpark costs.

Waste Management

Quail manure can work perfectly as a fertilizer. Regularly collect and compost it. And you’ll have a valuable additive for your garden or to sell.

Related – 7 Best Meat Sheep Breeds For Your Homestead | Delicious Lamb And Mutton

8. Fish (Aquaculture)

Beautiful tilapia fish swimming in a small pond.

Depending on your setup, raising fish like tilapia can be cost-effective. They grow fast in the right conditions and thrive in tanks, ponds, or aquaponic systems. Raising fish is also tons of fun if you enjoy aquaponics.

  • Fingerling cost: $0.30 to $1.00 each.
  • Feed cost: Varies based on system and fish size, but approximately $0.50 to $10.00 to raise a fish to harvest size.
  • Processing: Depends on scale but can range from minimal costs at home to several dollars per fish if done professionally.
  • Expected yield: Expect 0.75 to 1.25 pounds per fish.

How To Reduce Costs Raising Fish

Healthy tilapia fish swimming in a small pond.

Raising fish for meat, or aquaculture, comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities. Here are some tips to keep your aquaculture operation cost-effective.

Optimal Stocking Density

Find the balance between too many and not enough fish in your tanks or ponds. Overstocking might cause disease and low yields, while understocking can mean unused resources.

Water Quality Management

Regularly monitor and maintain water quality. Clean water reduces diseases and boosts fish growth, potentially diminishing the need for expensive treatments.

Recirculating Systems

Consider using a recirculating aquaculture system (RAS). Though there’s an upfront cost, RAS can save money in the long run by recycling water and ensuring optimal growth conditions.

Natural Feed Sources

Grow or encourage natural food sources like veggies, algae, or smaller prey fish. Natural feed sources can supplement commercial feeds and reduce costs.

Efficient Aeration

Ensure your aeration system is energy-efficient. Oxygen is crucial for fish health and growth, but over-aerating or using outdated equipment can waste energy.

Solar Power

Consider using solar panels to power your aquaculture systems. It’s an upfront investment that can reduce long-term energy costs.

Diversify Species

Depending on market demands, consider raising various fish varieties on your farm. Diversifying can act as insurance against disease or market price fluctuations.

Waste Utilization

Fish waste makes excellent fertilizer or input for other farming activities, like hydroponics or aquaponics.

Additional Considerations

Several black pigs foraging for lunch in a field.

Choosing the best meat animal is trickier than it seems! And there are more factors to think about beyond costs. Consider the following.

Noise

Firstly, consider the noise some animals can produce. For example, roosters are notorious for waking up everyone in the wee hours of the morning. If you live close to your neighbors, this might be a deal-breaker. Discussing your plans with your neighbors beforehand can help avoid any potential conflicts.

Feed Costs

Feed costs vary based on the animal and their needs, so it’s important to factor this in when planning your venture.

Chickens, for instance, are often considered more affordable to raise as they require less feed than cattle, pigs, or goats.

Labor Costs

Another critical aspect is the labor required to care for the animals. You’ll need to feed, clean, and provide medical care for your farmyard creatures. Depending on the size of your livestock, this could be a considerable time investment. Be honest about the amount of work you’re able and willing to put in.

Manure Costs

Manure management is another consideration when raising animals. Proper disposal or utilization of animal waste is one of the most vital ways to ensure a safe, healthy environment. You could consider using the manure as fertilizers for your garden or selling it to local farmers.

Cheapest animal to raise for meat.

Conclusion

Thank you so much for reading our guide about the best meat animals for homesteaders.

Raising yummy backyard meat can save you a ton of cash. And – it can also help you make a buck by selling the excess meat you raise.

What about you?

  • Do you raise backyard chickens, turkeys, or other poultry?
  • Have you ever raised larger farm animals – like cows, goats, or sheep?
  • Which meat animal is the most profitable for you?
  • Are there any meat animals that you couldn’t continue to raise due to high costs?
  • Do you think the cost of feeding farm animals will increase? Or do you think the prices will finally start coming down?

We love brainstorming more about farm animals with our fellow homesteading friends. And we hope to hear from you!

Thanks again for reading.

Have a great day!

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